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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue Apr 16 - 02:00 PM | Wed Apr 17 - 09:55 AM

Analysis: Patriots Agree to Terms With Free Agent OT Chukwuma Okorafor

The Patriots have begun adding to the offensive line by signing the former Steelers tackle ahead of free agency next week. 

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (76).
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (76).

The Patriots have made their first external free-agent addition this offseason, signing former Steelers OT Chukwuma Okorafor. 

New England enters free agency with a huge void to fill at offensive tackle. The Pats top two starters from a year ago, Mike Onwenu and Trent Brown, are free agents after the offensive line ranked second-to-last in ESPN's pass-blocking win rate metric in 2023. Although he's a priority to retain for de facto GM Eliot Wolf and head coach Jerod Mayo, the Patriots need to improve their tackle depth even if the team brings back Onwenu.

After being selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Okorafor made 59 starts over six seasons with the Steelers, including seven in 2023. However, he fell out of favor with Pittsburgh's coaching staff at the midway point last season following starts in the first seven games, losing his job to first-round pick Broderick Jones. The 27-year-old was then released by the Steelers, allowing him to sign with a team before the start of free agency next week.

The skinny on Okorafor is that he has plus size at 6-6, 320 pounds with 34.5-inch arms that allow him to play to his length and power in his lower half to anchor against pass-rushers. Over the years, Okorafor has had some flashy wins thanks to powerful hands that can stun rushers. He also has adequate foot quickness to force rushers to go through him to protect his edge.

On the flip side, Okorafor has struggled with sudden changes of direction and balance/body control in the run game. There are functional traits that allow him to stay afloat in his power, length, and initial quickness. But well-schooled rushers have given him problems with counters and forcing him to change directions while playing in space.

Okorafor should be viewed as a high-end swing tackle or a low-end starter at right tackle. New England only has Conor McDermott, Vederian Lowe, Andrew Stueber, and Calvin Anderson under contract at offensive tackle. Okorafor is an upgrade over that group, with more experience and better physical traits to start games if necessary.

From this perspective, Okorafor could have a similar season as the one he just had in Pittsburgh, where he starts the year before giving way to a rookie. The Patriots cannot be done at offensive tackle with this signing, as they still need a higher-end starter on the left side and should be in the market for tackles in a loaded class this draft cycle.

Furthermore, we wouldn't connect the Okorafor signing to the Patriots ongoing negotiations with standout T/G Mike Onwenu. Onwenu is in a different tier of player than Okorafor, meaning this shouldn't deter the Pats from re-signing someone Wolf referred to as a "core" player. Instead, the Okorafor signing is more likely about upgrading from the Riley Reiff, Anderson, McDermott, and Lowe foursome that New England was overreliant on last season.

The Patriots still have a long way to go to rebuild their offensive line, but Okorafor gives them better depth than they had in 2023.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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